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5 Defensive Players To Watch At Combine

College prospects to keep an eye on with many Ravens LBs set to hit the free market.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Monday, February 20th, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Categories: Ryan Mink

For Baltimore’s defense, the top need appears to be at the linebacker position.

Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson is an unrestricted free agent, along with inside linebackers Jameel McClain and Brendon Ayanbadejo.

Thus, it’s a position fans should watch closely starting Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

Here are five defensive players to look out for at the combine:

ILB Luke Kuechly, Boston College
The top inside linebacker in the draft, Kuechly was a statistical machine in college. The junior racked up a staggering 191 tackles last season, 44 more than the NCAA’s second-leading tackler.  While his instincts and reliability are unquestioned, some wonder about his athleticism. If Kuechly runs in the 4.7 second 40-yard dash range, he’s likely a top-15 pick. If he’s slow, he could slide.

OLB Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma
Lewis will have to answer questions about his health. His 2010 season ended in the hospital after an injury in the Fiesta Bowl. It turned out to be a mild concussion. Last year, a knee injury knocked him out of the final three games of the season. Watch to see if he looks healthy, because if he is, Lewis is a versatile, fluid linebacker who can get to the quarterback and be a standout on special teams.

ILB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
His stock has already taken a hit as NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said he was not impressed by his tape. The super-passionate Burfict must prove to coaches, executives and scouts in interviews that he’s matured and his emotions will be a positive on the field, not a negative. He’s considered an elite athlete, and could earn some goodwill with a monster showing in drills.

LB Dont’a Hightower, Alabama
An ACL knee injury in 2009 derailed Hightower’s early college career, but he has worked back from it and had back-to-back solid seasons. Now Hightower must prove that even for a 6-foot-4, 260-pound player, durability won’t be a concern and that he’s still physically explosive. Watch him closely in drills to see how he moves laterally and in pass coverage.

FS Janzen Jackson, McNeese State
The Ravens also may target safeties considering Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura are unrestricted free agents. There are character concerns with Jackson. He began his career at Tennessee, and showed great potential. But he was ultimately dismissed from the team in 2011 for a number of off-field transgressions, including a 2010 arrest for attempted armed robbery (chargers were dropped).  Keep an ear out for how he does in interviews. If Jackson runs in the 4.4s, it would be tough for teams to pass.

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